Buy Random Records & Expand Your Musical Horizon

AvatarMarc Henshall
Culture & Industry3 Comments

Is your turntable like a broken record? Feel like you’re reaching for the same albums, day-after-day? In this article, I’d like to explain why I’ve started throwing caution to the wind, often purchasing records that I know nothing about from artists I’ve never heard of before. I’d also like to explain why I think you should do the same.

Record Stores have always been a place of discovery for me. But until recently, the discovery was always based on an artist I already knew, or a record I’d been hunting down for a long time. Rarely would I seek out genuinely new music experiences.

As we often hear, we humans are creatures of habit. Without going too deeply into the science, we develop habits as a way of coping with many tasks on a day-to-day basis without our brains becoming overloaded with information. When a task becomes habitual, we don’t have to think about the process in the same way as when we are doing something new. It is this habit-forming that enables us to perform daily tasks like brushing our teeth and driving to work without giving it much thought.

“…it’s far easier to put on those feel-good tunes we know and love than it is to expose ourselves regularly to something completely new.”

Habitual behavior might help us with mundane daily routines, but it’s not necessarily helpful when it comes to encouraging new experiences. Naturally, some people are more habitual than others. However, when it comes to music, I’m sure most of us would admit to having a comfort zone.

It’s easy to see why; our brain rewards us with a dopamine hit when we play the music we love, and this makes us feel good. In other words, it’s far easier to put on those feel-good tunes we know and love than it is to expose ourselves regularly to something completely new.

I would argue we should regularly push ourselves out of our musical comfort zone to facilitate our growth as people—and broaden our horizon. As Albert Einstein, once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.”

I recently purchased a record from the clearance section of my local record store purely because the cover artwork caught my two year old daughter’s eye. It was a ten-inch release from an artist by the name of Fredo Viola. I’d never heard of him, I didn’t know what style it was, but it was on sale for just £3, and I thought – “why not!?”. I could search the artist online first using my phone, of course, but that would ruin the magic of surprise. When I first dropped the needle on this completely unknown record, I was exposed to an ambient-folk sound that I would never naturally choose. The experience was refreshing and rejuvenating.

A similar experience is responsible for my growing appreciation of Jazz music. Having grown up in a rock-focused household, my experience with Jazz was limited to say the least. All of this changed when I picked up a handful of old 1950s ten-inch jazz records – entirely at random. My mind was opened, my experience of music enriched.

“…We spent hours in there, just talking about records. I bought five or six LPs I’d never heard of, but now I love each one of them for their own reasons.”

After all, isn’t this, in-part what record stores are all about? When I interviewed a handful of industry folks ahead of Record Store Day, one of the recurring themes was the element of discovery great record shops encourage. This was summarized perfectly by Alternative Soul artist, VC Pines when describing his experience of happening upon a record store while on tour: “…To find this shop in the middle of nowhere in Scotland, and all the records hidden inside was totally unexpected. We spent hours in there, just talking about records. I bought five or six LPs I’d never heard of, but now I love each one of them for their own reasons.”

So next time you visit the record store, take a moment to wonder outside of your usual browsing area and dare to take a risk with your wallet. Clearance items are a great way to start, as their cheaper price tag makes jumping into the unknown just that little bit easier. Make a habit of buying one random record each month, you might love the record, and then again you might not, but one thing is for certain, you’ll experience something new.

In the words of Christopher McCandless (who was made famous by his tragic disappearance into the Alaskan wilderness, which later inspired the non-fiction book and film, Into the Wild):

“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

As it turns out, you don’t have to head into the wilderness to experience something new. You need only venture into your local record store.

  • Avatar James Huycke says:

    Couldn’t possibly agree more. Explore, learn, enjoy.

  • Avatar Mario Umpiérrez says:

    Agree on the concept and I’ve been practicing this for 30+ years. However, in this day and age I have to disagree with the method though. With so many services online and ways to learn about music today IMHO it makes no sense just buying LPs from unknown artist or genres. I’d venture into then via some other means and then go into the hunting if it merits so. I used to do this physically with CDs years ago. It paid me well and rewarded me with artists and records I deeply cherish. LPs, similarly to CDs albeit the latter with smaller footprint, can take huge space. If you have cheap LPs available to you that could be fine but if you don’t happen to live in country where that’s the case (I live in Uruguay) you need to be selective about what you buy. For every record I buy I pay outrageous shipping or I have to buy locally from a limited selection at exorbitant prices. If I live in the US I’d probably have a huge house with an equally huge selection but even then a less is more approach seems to me it’d be more sensible. From my top favorite artist I try to get everything I can. I pick classic records from very well known artists I like and the other handpicked records from out of the blue artist I know I love and will listen to. That to me was a good advice I received :Try to buy records you like and you know you’re going to listen to. Last but not least I think there are fundamental records in every music lover’s heart and soul. Those desert-island-LPs. For this I try to get the original and then all versions I can from the anniversary ones. I have every anniversary version of U2’s Joshua Tree o Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker or Counting Crows’s August and everything after. I find a collectors joy into that and I think we have a role in preserving those gens for future generations, if only within out families. I have a slight preference for quieter folkish/even lo-fi for turntable listening but that doesn’t stop me from having Pearl Jam’s Ten or Nirvana’s Nevermind in my collection. That’s my take and congratulations on the blog and page. I’m a regular reader.
    Best regards.
    Mario